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German Literature in the Age of Globalisation.

German Literature in the Age of Globalisation. Ed. by STUART TABERNER. Birmingham: Birmingham University Press. 2004. ix+251 pp. 19.95 [pounds sterling]. ISBN 1-902459-51-2.

Globalization has become a watchword of economic and political discourses, but this is the first book to assess its impact on the shaping of the literature of the Berlin Republic. Stuart Taberner's impressive introduction sets out the political, economic, and cultural debates, before contrasting the positive reading of globalization-as a liberating force to challenge notions of fixed identity-with that more 'pessimistic position' (quoting the sociologist David Held) which sees in it the homogenization, or rather Americanization, of culture and the destruction of local difference. These trajectories are set against a third position, 'glocalization', first used by Roland Robertson in the domain of social theory, in which individual biographies are brought to bear on social, economic, and cultural realities that have become increasingly universal, creating new forms of 'hybridity'.

A first group of contributions tackles the relation between province and the local and global. Paul Cooke examines how both East and West German writers have mobilized the territories of the former GDR as a repository of socialist values or imaginative springboard. For younger writers of the 'Generation Golf', robbed of the ideological other that gave contour to their own identity, however, the dominant mood is that of dislocation. Andrew Plowman examines the West German generation of 1978 onwards and the movement towards lifestyle novels 'with a German sensibility', though he baulks at the Teutonic chick-lit or sub-Hornby melancholy which has become the norm. Taberner himself follows up with an excellent piece on Botho Strauss, Arnold Stadler, and Hans-Ulrich Treichel, arguing that the often sentimental notion of 'Provinz' has been reimagined as a site of resistance where one can formulate 'die letzte Ritzung, die das Wort vermag' (Strauss). Beth Linklater cites Judith Hermann, Jenny Erpenbeck, Tanja Dockers, and Katrin Dorn to argue the opposite case: that the move away from German specificity allows writers to embrace the international literary mainstream. The upshot, however, is literature written with a sensibility that is, by her own admission, 'modelled primarily by consumerism rather than nationhood' (p. 75).

The next group of contributions wrestles more or less explicitly with the issue at the heart of Linklater's paper: literary value. Here the contrast is between a German literature which might, a few years ago, have been branded as the result of immoderate 'Gesinnungsasthetik', and the successful wave of new German 'pop literature'. A polemical piece by Dieter Stolz usefully deconstructs the interests of the German publishing industry, with its hype, its cult of youth, and slogans of 'Neue Lesbarkeit', though his advocacy of Andreas Maier's intractably unreadable Waldchestag (2000) may remain a voice in a (provincial)wilderness. Stuart Parkes weighs in on the side of Martin Walser, who he argues is closer to being a representative of 'world literature', precisely by dint of his German preoccupations, than the ephemeral fun culture of the younger generation. And Ingo Schramm's Fitchers Blau (1996) is championed by Helmut Schmitz, who, in a densely argued piece, contends that this 'heterogeneous textual monstrum' resists 'postmodernist pop' (p. 160) and denounces globalization precisely by engaging critically with the ideology of advanced capitalism. Two contributions attempt to redress the balance: Thomas Ernst (himself also a practitioner) contextualizes the new German pop literature and differentiates three strands-mainstream pop literature, an advanced (Suhrkamp) pop literature, and the underground pop literature. Frank Finlay then examines Christian Kracht's Faserland (1995), which, he argues, far from accommodating itself to the ephemera of a globalized society, offers a conservative critique of Germany as an 'inhospitable and one-dimensional [...] culturally hybrid monster' (p. 205).

The perceived advantages and disadvantages of just such hybridity are taken up in two papers which serve to enlarge the debate. Katharina Gerstenberger introduces the perspective of 'intercultural' German writing (one of the most vibrant areas of new German literature)focusing on ZaferS" enocak, Yoko Tawada, and Wladimir Kaminer, master of the satirical miniature. A final, characteristically nuanced contribution by Bill Niven discusses the globalization of memory and traces how German suffering at the end of the war and in its immediate aftermath has become newly topical as the taboos of 1968 are broken down. That memory of the Holocaust can enter into a 'plurality of trans-national memory discourses' (p. 231) without necessarily being instrumentalized as an evasion from the particularity of German crimes offers significant and important ways for thinking about this topic.

As with any collection of this kind, there are some places where one mightwish for a different emphasis. It is unfortunate, for example, that women writers are a marginal presence, and that of the eighty-four authors in the index, only six women are dealt with in any depth (four of them in a single article). This may indicate a slight (and perhaps surprising) conservatism in the volume as a whole: it quickly becomes clear, for example, that the 'pop literature' represented here is in fact pretty exclusively the brand of 'advanced Suhrkamp pop', whereas more detailed study of the social beat network, kanak literature, the slam poetry movement, or indeed Internet literature might have produced different conclusions. More systematic attention, in the papers and the introduction, could have been paid to the generational aspect: the two distinct aesthetic and political agendas which are at odds in the volume as a whole are linked to the transfer of power from one generation to another--forbetter and worse. Finally, it should perhaps be remembered that 'identity' is not, as the volumecumulatively seems to suggest, the only possible site of resistance to the much-criticized 'amerikanischer Holzweg' (as Matthias Politycki calls it) or Macdonaldization of culture. Moreover, 'difference' can be (and is)marketed as successfully as anything else. The aesthetic can also speak just as loudly, without necessarily getting caught in the fateful opposition of the autistically advanced or collusively popular.

Nevertheless, this is an energetic and thought-provoking volume which addresses new and important questions about the directions of German literature in the twenty-first century and the position of German culture in a global market.


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Author:Leeder, Karen
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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